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State v. Charles Dickerson or Charles R. Dickerson

Decided: March 1, 1962.


Goldmann, Freund and Foley.

Per Curiam

Defendant, Charles Dickerson, moved for leave to withdraw his plea of non vult to an indictment for the crime of robbery, N.J.S. 2A:141-1. His motion was denied, hence the present appeal.

Dickerson, while on parole, was indicted, together with Anasthase Mirisis and William Ford. The indictment

charged that on June 5, 1958, in Trenton, N.J., they did forcibly take from the person of Anthony De Lucia, by violence and putting him in fear, cash in the amount of $4,355.14 and bank checks of $17,139.53, having a total value of $21,474.67 [ sic ], being moneys belonging to the New Jersey Tobacco Company, contrary to N.J.S. 2A:141-1.

On October 2, 1959 each of the defendants pleaded not guilty. Subsequently, Mirisis and Ford retracted their pleas of not guilty, entered pleas of non vult and were sentenced on October 20 to serve a term of 10 to 15 years in the State Prison.

On October 23 Dickerson completed and executed a Criminal Procedure Form 13A which was witnessed by his counsel. Some of the questions on Form 13A and his answers were as follows:

"4. You are charged with 1-Robbery 2A:141-1

Do you understand the nature of this offense? Yes

5. The offense with which you are charged is a (high) misdemeanor which by law is punishable by 15 years or $5,000 fine or both plus 5 years additional under 2A:151-5

Do you understand this? Yes

6. Are you aware that if you plead guilty, non vult or nolo contendere the matter of punishment is entirely up to the court and that it may sentence you to the maximum penalty provided by law? Yes

7. Have any promises as to the sentence you will receive been made to you by the prosecutor or anyone else? No

8. In view of your answers to the foregoing questions, how do you intend to plead? non vult "

On November 6, when Dickerson appeared in the Mercer County Court to be sentenced, his counsel moved to change his plea of non vult to that of not guilty. What ensued appears in the colloquy set out by way of appendix to this opinion. It will be seen that the court closely inquired into the circumstances attending the execution of Criminal Procedure Form 13A and defendant's appearance in court on October 23 when he pleaded non vult. Essentially, what

defendant relied on in seeking to change his plea of non vult to not guilty was the alleged promise by a detective that if he pleaded non vult he would be sentenced only for the balance of his parole time. Significantly, he admitted that the sentences given to Mirisis and Ford had something to do with his present request to change his plea.

At the conclusion of the colloquy the judge sentenced Dickerson to the same 10 to 15-year term he had given to Mirisis and Ford with credit for the time he was confined in jail. On March 15, 1960 Dickerson by petition again applied for leave to change his plea to not guilty. This request was also denied. Subsequently his notice of appeal was filed and he was granted leave to proceed as an indigent.

It is argued that the court erred in denying the motion for leave to withdraw defendant's plea of non vult both before and after the imposition of sentence and that he was denied his constitutional rights.

The main contention is that a promise had been made by a detective for a short jail term if Dickerson would change his plea from not guilty to non vult. Defendant concedes in his brief that he was apprehended at Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and on September 23, 1959 he was returned to Trenton, N.J. During the entire trip he was in the custody of Mercer County detective John Carroll, to whom the defendant claims he denied his guilt to the robbery charge.

The motion to retract a plea of guilty is governed by R.R. 3:7-10(a) which requires that the motion for leave to withdraw a plea of guilty be made before sentence is imposed. It is noted that the rule makes no provision for a motion to withdraw a plea of non vult , but by analogy it is sufficiently similar to a plea of guilty that they may be treated alike. The withdrawal of a plea is not a matter of right, but is addressed to the discretion of the court. State v. Pometti , 12 N.J. 446, 452 (1953), affirming 23 N.J. Super. 516 (App. Div. 1952); Clark v. State , 58 N.J.L. 383 (E. & A. 1895). Before sentence is imposed,

the court will exercise its discretion liberally to enable the withdrawal of a plea to "correct manifest injustice." State v. Deutsch , 34 N.J. 190, 198 (1961). In the exercise of this discretion, the court must fairly and justly weigh the policy considerations which favor the finality of judicial procedures against the policy considerations that no man be convicted unless after a fair trial or the voluntary entry of a plea of guilty. State v. Deutsch, supra (34 N.J. , at pp. 197-8).

The purpose of requiring defendants to answer the Criminal Procedure Form 13A is to assure adequate proof that the defendant has been advised of his rights so as to refute any subsequent claims to the contrary relating to defendant's plea and to determine whether the plea was made voluntarily and with understanding of the nature of the charge. R.R. 3:5-2(a). When defendant executed Form 13A he was represented by counsel, he answered the questions and stated that he understood the nature of the offense with which he was charged and that he knew the maximum penalty provided by law could be imposed if he pleaded non vult. He also denied that any promises had been made to him. Dickerson then made no claim that he did not understand the consequences of his plea, nor that he was inadequately represented. The only reason now advanced for his not being guilty was his sole interest in the length of time he would serve. His plea of non vult was deliberately and understandingly made.

In State v. Deutsch, supra , the defendant was charged with the offense of circulating forged schedules, invoices and trade acceptances. He at first entered a plea of non vult to an accusation containing 28 counts. Subsequently he moved for an order to retract his plea to that of not guilty. His motion was denied. However, it was supported by an affidavit and testimony to the effect that the invoices were not typed by him and the schedules were not in his handwriting or signed by him. On appeal he advanced the same grounds for his innocence. In addition, he urged that he

was confused since his counsel had little opportunity to talk to him and had neglected to explain the various documents which he had signed but had told him that he would "go over the papers [with him] later."

Since it appeared that he was in good faith asserting a defense on the merits (34 N.J. , at pp. 196, 204), he was given leave to supplement the record by additional proofs of his innocence.

Deutsch is factually distinguishable from the present matter. Here there was no explanation of any defense, no lack of understanding of the charge or penalty, and no suggestion that his counsel did not have sufficient time in which to represent him.

When Dickerson appeared to be sentenced and moved to withdraw his plea, he offered no defense on the merits, nor was any explanation made outside of his bare assertion that he was not guilty. There was no intimation, not even the faintest, of a defense on the merits. It was when defendant became aware of the sentence given to his codefendants, of a term longer than he expected, that he sought to withdraw his plea. It is inconceivable if defendant was innocent, as he claims to have told detective Carroll, that he would later want to enter a plea of non vult , tantamount to an admission of guilt. The motion was a mere maneuver not related to the merits, designed solely to control the sentence. ...

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